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The History of Hollywood, California. U.S.A. (Part 1)

The History of Hollywood, California. U.S.A.

Spanish explorers were the first outsiders to enter the area which we know as Hollywood. At the time, Native Americans were living in the canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains, and were “persuaded” by the Spanish Government to relocate. Before long, the Native Americans and a few Mexicans had been moved to missions established in the Santa Monica Mountain area, and the land which Hollywood now occupies was divided in two large parcels: Rancho La Brea to the West, and Rancho Los Feliz to the east.

Hollywood is not really a recognized town-ship, but it is almost more socially note-worthy than the city that it stemmed from. Hollywood, a district in Los Angeles established in 1853, was born when an adobe hut was placed on a tiny peice of land called the Nopalera (Nopal area) located west-northwest of downtown Los Angeles, named for the Mexican Nopal cactus indigenous to the area. Although an experiement undertaken by a small handful of poor men looking for a new means of survival, growing crops on this peice of land proved to be almost effortless, and so successful, that by 1870, Hollywood became a thriving agricultural community, with promise of farming and flourishing for many.The area was known to these residents as the Cahuenga Valley, after the pass in the Santa Monica Mountains immediately to the north.


How Hollywood Got It’s Name

Having found several variations on this story, I have had to do a little digging into the history of the State of California. Most of the stories involve a prominent historic figure, a real estate tycoon by the name of Harvey Handerson Wilcox, and his wife, Daeida, who moved to Los Angeles from Topeka, Kansas, in the 1880s. Wilcox, having lost the use of his legs from a bout with typhoid fever prior to moving out west, bought 160 acres of land west of the city, at the foothills near the Cahuenga Pass.

According to one version of this story, the town’s name came from Daeida. While on a trip East, she had a conversation with a woman who who described her country home in Ohio, named for the Dutch settlement of Hollywood. Liking the name, Daeida christened their ranch “Hollywood,” upon her return.

On February 1, 1887, Wilcox submitted a grid map of his new town to the Los Angeles County recorder’s office. This was the first official document with the name “Hollywood” printed on it. The first street in town was named Prospect Avenue, but was later changed to Hollywood Boulevard, where city lots were carved out around dirt avenues and pepper trees. At one time, English holly was planted in the area, but it didn’t survive in the arid climate.

english-holly (1)

Another version entirely credits a man by the name of HJ his wife Gigi,with the name. According to the book The Father of Hollywood: The True Story,  written by Gaelyn Whitley Keith, (on page 27) the name was the result of a conversation between two men: A pioneer named HJ and a local Chinese man. 


As they neared the top, they stopped and dismounted their horses to admire the view below. As HJ was making a few sketches in his notebook for future memory, he spied off to the left an old rickety wagon full of wood pulled by one horse with a Chinese man driving pell-mell down the narrow road. The Chinese man was singing at the top of his voice. HJ and Gigi stood to one side of the road as the man appeared around the cluster of trees. He had also caught a glimpse of them, so he drew up his reins to stop the wagon full of firewood. Getting out of the wagon, he put his palms together in front of his chest and bowed his head a little, closing his eyes as an expression of respect. HJ and Gigi were delighted with his greeting. Gigi still remembered those two tall men talking to each other. Much to her surprise, the Chinese man spoke an intelligible but broken English with a thick Chinese accent.

“What are you doing?” HJ asked.

“I up sunrise. Old trees fall down. Pick up wood. All time haully wood.”

“Holly wood…Hollywood!” HJ declared as he gazed off to the valley below.

After a long silence, the Chinese man climbed back in the wagon. He continued on his way down the trail. HJ was lost in thought and had not meant to ignore the man. All of a sudden, HJ turned to Gigi and said, “Hollywood! That is a perfect name! I will name this new town Hollywood. Holly will represent my British ancestors and Wood for our Scottish. Yes,Hollywood!”

Development and Spread

 By 1900, Hollywood had a population of 500, a post office, a newspaper, a hotel, and two markets. In neighboring Los Angeles, through seven miles of orange groves, the population had reached 100,000. There was a single-track streetcar line that twisted its way along Prospect Avenue, on an irregular schedule, into the city on a two-hour trip.

By 1902, the first portion of the famous Hollywood Hotel was built. Though the Hollywood Hotel housed many of the great stars in its day, it was razed in August 1956 to make way for a US$10 million development, with a twelve story office building for the First Federal Savings & Loan Association of Hollywood, a shopping center and parking lots.

On Prospect Avenue, a new trolley car system named “The Hollywood Boulevard” was installed by 1904, improving the time it took to travel between downtown Los Angeles and Hollywood. One of the last official acts of the Hollywood Board of Trustees in 1910, before  the annexation by Los Angeles, was to change the name of Prospect to Hollywood Boulevard. Due to its ongoing struggles to maintain an adequate water supply, residents voted to have Hollywood annexed by the City of Los Angeles and its new aqueduct system…. T B Continued…


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This is an independent blog. Please note that I am nowhere near fluent, and that these are not translations, but merely works in progress. Please do comment if you come across misreads or anything else you think is important.

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